A Brief History of Emanuel County


Part of the GAGenWeb & USGenWeb Projects

More than 250 years ago the Lower Creek Indians lived in the territory now known as Emanuel County. They hunted wild game for food and pelts; held their War and Green Corn dances; fished in the Ohoopee and Canoochee Rivers; roamed the forests; giving confirmation of their dwelling in arrowheads and other relics still found today. The Indians, though signing many treaties, were not driven out fully until 1837. These Indians generally lived more in peace than in war until the white man (Spaniards, French and English) came to "the new world".

It was this struggle, combined with a hope for economic enrichments for the sponsors, that served as the chief incentive for founding the colony of Georgia at Savannah by England's General James Oglethorpe in 1733. The colonists were to be citizen-soldiers, supply the mother country with natural resources while keeping the Spanish, the French and the Indians away from the better established colonies to the north. Contrary to many popular modern-day histories, Oglethorpe led a well-appointed body of militia-citizens onto the bluffs at Savannah. There were only a few "prison debtors" and none were dregs.

Enticed by the possibility of owning their own land and a advantageous fur trade with the Indians, early Savannahians and migrants primarily from the Carolinas began to move westward and southward, settling frequently along water routes. By 1741, the Trustees considered it in the interest of good government to divide the young colony into two counties: Frederica and Savannah. The latter included settlements on the Savannah River and on both banks of the Great Ogeechee River. These two counties were subdivided into districts. This design continued until 1752 when the trustees relinquished the charter of Georgia, but their appointees remained in office until the Royal Governor arrived and Georgia became a Royal Province.

The most important act passed by the Provincial Legislature was a measure dividing the several districts into eight parishes for establishment of religious worship according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England.

On February 5, 1777, the parishes were replaced by counties, this being ratified by the first State Constitutional Convention in Savannah. The section of Georgia now know as Emanuel County became a part of Washington County. From Washington County, later on, was formed Montgomery County, with its county seat at one time located within five miles of what is now Swainsboro.

The first citizens of this area, as mentioned in Lucian Lamar Knight's Georgia Landmarks, included James Moore, William Stephens, Henry Durden (or Durdeno), George Rountree, Richard Edenfield, M. Thigpen, A. Gardener, N. Rowland, E. Sain, James Tapley, John Snell, James Hicks, William Phillips, J. Sutton, E. Lane, B. Johnston, John Wiggins, P. Newton, William Rowland, William Norris, J. Norris, S. Powell, John Rhiner, M. Cuhl, S. Kennedy, E. Coleman, D. E. Rich, E. Wilks, S. Williamson, B. Key and J. C. Sumner.

There were others of course, as indicated by the names of Revolutionary War soldiers whose wills or the administration of their estates are found in Emanuel County records. The list includes Jonathan Coleman, Abram S. Lane, John Clifton, David Edenfield, Ephriam Herrington, Joseph Sumner, Jacob Durden and Henry Brown. These men and their families, were living in this area in "pre-Emanuel" days.

In December 1812, Emanuel County was created by the Georgia legislature, being taken from territories then embraced by Bulloch and Montgomery counties. Since then, Emanuel has been sliced several times to satisfy new county demands, furnishing land for Jenkins, Johnson, Toombs and Candler counties.

Emanuel was named for Governor David Emanuel, one of Georgia's earliest chief executives and a soldier of the Revolution, fighting under the command of his brother-in-law, General John Twiggs. He was a native of Pennsylvania, born in 1744, of German parents. He came to Georgia just before the Revolution and settled on Walnut Creek near Waynesboro, later moving to the head of Beaver Dam Creek.

During the Revolutionary War, Emanuel was captured while acting as a scout near McBean Creek. A British soldier was ordered to shoot him and promised his clothing. The story is told that Emanuel was almost naked when he escaped and made his way to friendly American forces.

Emanuel was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1789 and 1795. He served in both branches of the General Assembly, was three times president of the State Senate. In 1801, when Governor James Jackson resigned the governors office to become U. S. Senator, David Emanuel became governor by virtue of his position in the State Senate. Governor David Emanuel served the State of Georgia from March 3, 1801 until November 7, 1801 at which time Josiah Tattnall became Governor.

Governor Emanuel was a Presbyterian and is believed to be buried in Burke County, but efforts to locate his grave have failed.

Emanuel County was created in December 10, 1812 through a bill introduced in November 1812 by State Senator Stephen Swain.

On November 18, 1814, an Act was approved by Governor Early designating a site for public buildings in Emanuel County. It was restricted to within one mile of the place pointed out by Jesse Mezzel as the center of the county and it was to be located on the highest hill within three miles of Steve Rich's horse lot near Modoc, where the first court in Emanuel County was allegedly held.

This hill, 317 feet high, is now the site of the Emanuel County Courthouse. Commissioners appointed to locate the county seat were Edward Lane, Francis Pugh, Needham Cox, Eli Whitdon, Euriah Anderson, Jesse Mezzle and Archibald Culbreath. The site agreed upon for the county seat was made permanent by an Act approved December 6, 1822, and the name of the town was to be Swainsboro, and was named for Senator Stephen Swain.

There were very few roads leading into Emanuel County before the Civil War so many travelers missed the beauty of this quaint place, therefore, very little of the history has been written on Emanuel County, even though Emanuel County is replete with historical data. The current county population is about 20,546 according to the 1990 census.

Most of this history was taken from "Emanuel Memories: 1776-1996" , published by The Forest Blade. This is an excellent research source. No comprehensive history of Emanuel County has been written and only a few attempts have been made to preserve the heritage.

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Page Copyright 2000-2010 Nancy Gay Crawford, Emanuel Co. GAGenWeb Coordinator. All rights reserved